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The General Collections



Starting Places
Biographical Sources
Women's Writings
Literary Works
arrow graphicFirst-Person Accounts
Travel Accounts
Other Sources




First-Person Accounts

In autobiographies, diaries, letters, interviews, and oral histories, women describe the details of their own lives. Within the many oral-history collections that are part of the series New York Times Oral History Program, we hear, for example, women of Appalachia portray lives revolving around the coal mines and California suffragists and women trade-union members remember the long struggles in their respective campaigns (for an index to names, see MicRR guide AI3.O7 [catalog record]).

From revealing abundant details on all aspects of their daily existence to how and where they expressed themselves, women's personal nonfiction writings provide the raw stuff of history. Just listen:

July 30—Saturday- -And now Oh God comes the saddest record of my life for this day my husband accidentally shot himself and was buried by the wayside and oh, my heart is breaking.” (1864)16

Or, another woman years later:

“By now castrating the baby goats was fairly easy for me . . ..” (1987)17

Women do speak to us.

see caption below

Mary Ringo, 1956.

full item

Women's first-person accounts are not always easily identifiable. In most cases, the sex of the author is not part of the cataloging record. The subject headings for The Journal of Mrs. Mary Ringo: A Diary of Her Trip across the Great Plains in 1864, quoted above, are “West (U.S.)—Description and travel” and “Overland journeys to the Pacific.” The heading for most travel accounts by authors of either sex is usually the geographical location plus the subdivision “—Description and travel.” Researchers must look at the records for all items under this term and try to select those by or about women. Often the name of the author is the main clue. And, of course, men's first-person accounts also contain valuable evidence about women's lives.

In the past thirty years many women's diaries and letters, some that had lain unknown in attics and archives, have been printed or put on microform. More specific cataloging has improved access to recent works, but bibliographies remain the primary means of identifying most older titles.

Women have also written extensively for periodicals, but again, these articles, especially those produced before 1970, are often difficult to find. Consult Periodical Contents Index and other periodical indexes (Periodical Indexes). State historical publications and local histories also contain wonderful accounts by women.

Other American Memory collections contain the full text of women's first-person accounts.


Arksey, Laura, Nancy Pries, and Marcia Reed. American Diaries: An Annotated Bibliography of Published Diaries and Journals. 2 vols. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983-87. Z5305.U5 A74 1983 MRR Alc, LH&G, BusRR [catalog record].

Briscoe, Mary Louise, ed. American Autobiography, 1945-1980: A Bibliography. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982. Z5305.U5 A47 1982 MRR Alc, LH&G [catalog record].

Cline, Cheryl. Women's Diaries, Journals, and Letters: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1989. Z7963.B6 C55 1989 MRR Alc [catalog record].

Davis, Gwenn, and Beverly A. Joyce, comps. Personal Writings by Women to 1900: A Bibliography of American and British Writers. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989. Z1229.W8 D38 1989 MRR Alc [catalog record].

Goodfriend, Joyce D. The Published Diaries and Letters of American Women: An Annotated Bibliography. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1987; Z5305.U5 G66 1987 MRR Alc [catalog record].

Rhodes, Carolyn, H., ed. First Person Female American: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography of the Autobiographies of American Women Living after 1950. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston Publishing Co., 1980; Z7963.A8 F57 MRR Biog [catalog record].

( See Travel Accounts for other bibliographies.)

SAMPLE LCSH: Although there are many subject headings for first-person accounts, bibliographies often provide the best access.

American diaries—Bibliography
Diaries—Women authors—Bibliography

The following subject headings may be combined with proper names or regions or with the term “Women”:

Oral history
[Name of person]—Interviews
[Name of person]—Correspondence
[Geographic location]—Description and travel
[Name of war]—Personal narratives, American [these are mostly by men]

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